When the prophets of the Old Testament speak of justice, they have a larger sense in mind. Often they are referring to the well-being of the entire community, while in our country, we envision ideas along the lines of individual rights and freedoms. This distinction becomes clear in reading Zephaniah, the prophetic book included in last week’s lectionary readings. Here, however, I am interested in the consequences of how we frame the idea of justice.
In the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been many calls for gun control, including the ban on assault weapons. This strikes me as pure common sense. If we are honest, how can a gun that fires thirty rounds in one second possibly be used constructively?
But I worry that we are missing the heart of the matter. In the coming days, it will be too easy for our already polarized nation to fall back into our ideological divisions by which the left and the right talk past each other. I fear that we are goaded into these entrenched positions by powerful, deep pocketed lobbies that have the perpetuation of their own self-interest in mind, even at the expense of the common good.
We need to be asking deeper, more probing questions about our culture.
When I was a hospital chaplain in Richmond, Virginia, the emergency room workers referred to the “Knife and Gun Club” as the frequent victims of violence that were rushed in by ambulance almost every single day. I hate to say it, but little children getting shot by handguns is actually an all too common occurance in this country . . . to the point in which most of us actually ignore it. In Richmond, such tragic violence is the result of a long history of racism, economic inequality, and poor school systems. None of these problems is going to be solved by simply banning assault weapons.
So then, what do we do?
Personally, I deeply appreciated President Obama’s address to the nation on Friday afternoon. In his own words, he spoke as a parent, not as the President. I think this was appropriate just as I believe his tears were real. I know that mine were too.
But in the days ahead, we need our President to act like one. And let’s not make the mistake of laying all the responsibility on his desk. We need our elected officials to do their jobs, cross the aisle, and make real and lasting reforms. Right before our eyes, the gap is growing between the haves and the have nots, resulting in tragedies every single day, from Connecticut to Virginia and everywhere else in between. Sandy Hook can be a moment of gravitas, a “come to Jesus moment” if you like, that opens our eyes to the realities around us. And, I pray, inspires us to do something about them.